Sunday, October 05, 2003

BloggerCon 2003 IX

Managing a Community: Joi Ito

Joi Ito is the founder and CEO of Neoteny, a venture capital firm focused on personal communications and enabling technologies. Here is a rough transcript of his talk:

This session is on community, and I wanted to start off the discussion by getting everyone involved. A lot of the other sessions have been about the content of blogs and the technology. To me, blogs are a really interesting tool for connecting people, but there are a lot of other tools that can bring people together. I use IRC and Wiki as community tools, too. I'm going to talk about the different kinds of communities, some of the issues, and how we can alleviate some of the problems that come up in communities.

This is an IRC channel. Originally, it was a place for people who hang out at my blog to hang out. I don't control it in any way. It's kind of an odd thing when your name becomes a place. I have a lot of experience with communities. I started a mailing list in the late '90s, and people forget that it's your living room and think it's a public place. The IRC channel and Wiki support blogging a lot. When you blog aggressively and get flamed aggressively, you need emotional support and technical support.

Blogs are pretty temporal. Wikis are more structured. And the IRC channel is really temporal. If I blog something and get flamed, I can go to IRC for support. If I blog something, I can mention it in IRC, and people can rip it apart for me to edit it. There are also bots in the channel. Joibot does a lot of handy things in the channel. It keeps track of who people are. When you enter the room, you're heralded. Since Joibot are an open-source project, a lot of participants can contribute functions.

At conferences like this, there are a dozen people right now who have something to contribute. In IRC, it doesn't get cluttered. You can share links. You can provide feedback on the back channel. During the power outage in New York, a lot of people came to hang out and help people.

Wikis are also really useful. They really are about community. Once it develops a critical mass, a lot of people hang out there. Then it's a Wikisphere. Some people just fix punctuation. Some people insert strange comments. There are a couple dozen contributors to the Wiki, but there's a great deal of traffic. As a result of having a great deal of Google juice, people put themselves in the Wiki.

Both Wikis and IRC, which are relatively old technologies, benefit from blogging. Your reputation becomes collateral, and you tend to behave more. A funny thing we did at a conference in Aspen: I was streaming in iSight, and Kevin was talking in an IRC channel. There's a distributed way to conference bash.

Kevin Marks: The heralding and chat bots are the interesting things here. One member added a dictionary to Joibot. After awhile, someone else started keeping track of the people in the room. Because anyone can add a definition to something, you can find out who someone is. That makes for some interesting times. There's also a feature in several of these bots that will post to blogs.

Joibot actually has a blog, which is broken right now. Chumpbot is also a common form of bots. People who operate IRC channels are basically in financial disaster. They're maintaining a sustenance level. Now that all of us bloggers are getting into IRC, it's rejuvenating IRC developers. How can we bridge protocols and mix all these things up. A lot of uses won't survive, but we'll come up with other uses. There are generally 60-80 people in this channel at any given time. Maybe a dozen focus on the screen.

Kevin Marks: Microsoft abandoned all of their IRC not long ago. A lot of people are now going to be looking for other ways to chat.

One of the things that's interesting is that blogs have a certain kind of tempo. In IRC, there's another kind of tension. If you connect them well, say, you have a problem on the blog and take it to IRC… [Loses track of thought while Kevin tinkers] One of the problems is that IRC brings on ADD.

Halley Suitt: The brevity of it takes some getting used to it. It goes so fast. And people you don't know come and go. It's so ghostlike.

It's like having some flatmates. I get up in the morning and go into IRC. People will say, did you know so-and-so came by. Did you see this blog post. It's kind of strange when you get into it. One member is really tough on regulars but nice to newcomers. That's something that only women can do, I think. AKMA is really important because when the potty mouths come out, he says, "Cough!"

This is one other modality. The Wiki and Wikisphere are another modality.

Dave Winer: I just started using IRC because we got a channel for BloggerCon, and it reminds me a lot of the computers of the '70s. Whatever happened to the graphic computer revolution? Why does it look so bad?

The problem is that people have forgotten about IRC and it hasn't been worked on for 20 years.

Kevin Marks: Microsoft about six years ago did graphic chat with people talking out of speech bubbles. It was amusing, but then it got irritating.

The interface has a lot of work. The people making Java apps that do what IRC does are building proprietary things. IRC is built into Mozilla. With just a little bit of support, IRC could be brought into the blogging and software community. There's an interesting alchemy happening.

Dave Winer: The biggest this session could make is to define what community is at BloggerCon. The word just comes up in conversation. You're not an audience. You're not an eyeball. What should community be like?

Question: I'd like to see the Emergent Democracy Web site. The Dean scene needs to start working together. Maybe a Wiki could help them do that.

A lot of the people who participate in this are much more knowledgeable about democracy than me. If a page gets too long, someone can move it somewhere else. For example, in the section "Does Direct Democracy Scale," you can create links to people and concepts by putting their name or the phrase in camel case. It's like a little mini Who's Who. The difference between this and a blog is that it's one document where people can add things in between. If you have a lot of people moving stuff around, it can emerge into a really readable document. The structure's not always clean.

Wikis are also really useful for group linkrolls. This is more centralized than blogging. It can also get messed up if people don't feel ownership for the space. It's more like gardening than your living room.

Different personalities are attracted to different tools. There's one guy in the channel who's great at one liners, but he's not very good at paragraphs. So he's good at IRC. I prefer paragraphs. There are also people who don't really care about ego or getting credit, so they'll contribute to a group project rather than a blog. Some people prefer commenting on my blog.

Not that we have people using the different tools, maybe we can get people using IRC, Wiki, and blogs can learn from each other. Bloggers seem to care more about how things look.

Dave Winer: Let's do a directory that's more Wiki style. The problem with Yahoo and DMOZ is that there's one person organizing the directories. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just go to Yahoo and add a link where it belongs?

That would be very cool. One of the keys to successful Wikis is that the project needs to be just interesting enough to attract a lot of people, but not interesting enough to attract the trolls. Wikis are used in verticals as information repositories. Most people use Wikis like this and have decent page ranking because they make pages for themselves. Camel case your name.

That's the bright side. The dark side is that every single tool, you get a different kind of troll. Someone came on my Wiki the other day and erased everything. The good thing is that one command, and it's back. It's about Google, too. People have been getting comment spammed. It's the same with the IRC channel. You'll get people who don't know about blogging wander in and start flaming people.

How do you deal with the person who comes to destroy the party? There's a book written for elementary teachers to learn how to deal with bad children. It's been used in community because there are a lot of tools you can use to deal with people.

People impersonate people and leave comments. Usually it's just one or two people, but they'll post as a bunch of different people so it looks like they're getting attacked.

Question: If you want to stay under the radar, that's counter to what you're trying to achieve. It's an inevitability.

Some people just turn comments off. Screw people. Everyone should have a blog. Some people get into blogging because they start commenting.

Dave Winer: When I turned comments off, it really was time for people to start blogs. There weren't a lot of blogs then. Every blog will eventually attract flames. The beauty of it is that flames are not attractive. If you try to stay off their radar, you stay off the radar of lots of people. If you're being Web-like and doing good things for the Web, you shouldn't give into that. Just go through it. In the Dean campaign, if someone comes in and flames, other people come in and make a donation because someone flamed them. Positive energy screws up negative energy. But usually, people just run away. That sucks. 90% of people are good. Stand up to them.

Halley Suitt: People give me a lot of shit about not having comments. My blog's called Halley's Comments. When I write about sexy stuff, I know I'm going to get a lot of comments. I have no time to commit to doing that. People can just email me directly. I love that.

I was talking to Howard Rheingold, who's a community guy. He gave me a lot of advice. There've been some interesting results. Now, Google includes comments as well as blogs. My comments will come up in Google.

Griff Wigley: Can you talk a little bit about conferencing boards? I don't understand the difference between a Wiki and something like the Well.

Even I can edit and contribute to the code of the Wiki. I'm not a script kiddie. It's all open source. Blogging destroyed the whole content management industry. All we're doing is going to destroy the conferencing industry. I'm a newbie blogger. I've only been doing this a year and a half.

Question: You've talked about four different media that have their own tempo and form. They're very loosely coupled. Do you seem them being more tightly coupled or integrated?

If you spend a weekend learning Applescript, you can connect all this stuff.

Question: What about the metatools? What do you use for community discovery?

Some people wonder how to authenticate comments. One way is Technorati, which is a centralized service. There are two ways to authenticate. One is centralized. One is decentralized. With Instant Messenger, you've got buddy lists. Other services, the six-degree services like Friendster and Tribe, are another way to do this. What if you're in Helsinki and you have a list of everyone who's available to go drinking within a kilometer, and if you can't find a friend, you find a friend of a friend.

Blogging has been primarily an American thing. Mobile blogging, like cell phone culture, is much more advanced in Helsinki and Tokyo. Community culture will bring in the synthesis of cell phones. The cell phone problem won't go away until the carriers change.

There's an interesting book called Beyond Culture. M-time is delineated time and space. P-time is polychromatic time and space, like Mediterranean bureaucracy where everyone just shows up. P-time is very content sensitive, while M-time is much more scalable. When I get up, I can see who's online and spend all morning following what people think and develop it. When you can see the presence of hundreds and hundreds of people you know, you don't really need to schedule meetings.

There are kids in Japan who go out without any plan of who they're going to hang out with. You can see who's where and say, "Let's go there!" You can even send maps using Japanese cell phones. In the old days, we didn't even have clocks. I'll meet you in that town in two months.

Dave Winer: That's what this is. This is total M-time.

Mobility really adds to location-based services. PCs are a sucky platform for mobility. But cell phones are great. I want to see blog entries from everyone within a kilometer of here. A lot of cell phones have GPS. So if you take a picture, you can embed GPS data into the JPGs. That's pretty cool. But it's also pretty scary. If I blog that I'm going to Boston, any thief can learn that I'm not home.

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